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Every Single Thing My “Free” Kitten Ended Up Costing Me

My new kitten was around five weeks old when a friend found him abandoned and hiding in the wheel well of her truck on an acreage outside the city. She waited for as long as she could in case anybody came back for him, but nobody did. Eventually, she put him in a cardboard box, took him back into the city, and started asking around on social media to find somebody who could give him a home. He was not even fully weaned yet and needed a human who could devote time to near-constant kitten care for the first little bit. I grew up with cats, had no other pets, could work remotely for a while, and fell in love at first sight.

I carried him home in my jacket that night.

I white-knuckled it and stressed until he was weaned off milk, able to walk in a straight line, capable of regulating his own body temp without needing constant snuggles or a warm lamp, and weighed a healthy amount. Now, a little over a month later, he’s starting to look and act a lot more like a kitten and less like an infant, so I can breathe a little easier! He’s a beautiful and sweet-natured little ball of fluff who is the color of tea with cream, chirps constantly at me, falls asleep purring on my stomach every night, and enjoys honeysuckle like no other cat I’ve ever owned. I absolutely love him to pieces — but he was an unexpected expense and I’m glad I had savings to cover it!

Broken down below is everything I’ve spent in this first month on my “free” kitten:

  • Vet: $60 — He needed a full check-up, deworm, license, and shots, but the vet did the check-up for free because the staff was happy to see an animal find a forever home without going into the shelters first. Plus, I live right across the street, so they know they’ll make their money back over the cat’s lifetime! I can expect another $100 bill for my kitten’s last set of shots at the end of the month, and a bill for around $300 when it’s time to neuter him in February.
  • Food: Kibble $30/bag, Milk $1.50/day, Pumpkin $1.50/two days — Because he was alone for an unknown span of time and underweight when he was found, I’m feeding him a vet-recommended kitten food to get his body weight back up and make sure he grows well. For the first couple weeks, I was also heavily supplementing it with a special milk formula because he was so young, and he didn’t show much interest in water or solid food. Also, he gets a couple bites of pumpkin puree each night to make sure his tummy stays happy. Now that he’s healthy again, he can be switched to a less expensive kibble and a can of milk can last him several days (as he likes the taste, it’s now just a treat to settle him down before bed). So, I expect this cost to do down dramatically!
  • Timed Feeder Bowl: $50 — Like most pet people, I work eight hours a day. I could string out working remotely for a week, but then I had to return to the office. My mother checked in on him at lunch each day until he got bigger, but having a timed bowl to give him access to small portions of food every two hours prevented him from gorging and taught him that his food source is reliable even when I’m nowhere in sight. And when he’s an adult, I’ll be able to leave him for short stretches without too much worry — friends or family can check on him when I’m out of town, but I’ll know he’s well fed.
  • Initial Supplies: $30 litter and box, $30 toys, $60 for a cat perch and bed — I did a panicked midnight supply run when I brought him home, and picked up the basic stuff a kitten needs.
  • Additional Supplies: $25 stuffed animal, $40 toys, $15 additional bed, $25 scratching post, $20 collar and tag to wear until he’s chipped, $50 additional cat perch — As he’s settled in, I’ve been picking up little bits and pieces here and there to make his life more comfortable! The stuffed animal is very sweet — it was made for dogs, but it crinkles when he kneads it, and it’s the perfect size to snuggle like a littermate. More toys means I can rotate what he’s got access to while I’m at work, keeping him from getting bored. The second bed gives him somewhere to curl up when I’m on the computer, the scratching post is saving my sofa, and the second perch means he has a safe vantage point to look out every window in my condo. He’ll be microchipped and licensed when he’s neutered, at a cost of $60, but until then the collar gives his new mama a little bit of peace of mind in case he ever gets outside.
  • Gift Card for Mom: $25 — Not strictly a cat expense, but a thank you gift to my mom for taking the time out of her busy day to help with keeping my baby safe and well-fed while I was at work on the other side of town!
  • New Milk Frother: $15 — I found out the hard way when he was big enough to get up on the counter and destroy the old one! He pressed a button, it started making sounds, and he freaked out. RIP, morning lattes.

Added up, this means I’ve spent around $500 so far on my “free” kitten — and I can expect to pay around that amount again in additional medical and licensing costs down the pipeline. And that’s not to mention the ongoing expenses of food, litter, replacement toys, and anything else he manages to break! As he gets older, I expect those costs to stabilize, and I’ll be able to budget more effectively for him. But in the meantime, things are a bit up in the air, and I just need to expect that my cash flow will be a little unpredictable until he’s an adult.

I’ve also opened a savings account to set aside a bit of money each month in anticipation of future unexpected vet bills, in the same way I’d build an emergency fund for myself. Pet insurance options in my area are limited, and the coverage that’s available is often not that great, so I looked at what I’d be paying for it each month and decided to siphon that money into an account instead. I’ve seen animals rack up thousands of dollars at the vets over the course of their lifetimes, and I never want to have to deny him care because I can’t afford it!

It’s so easy to get swept up in the cute eyes of a puppy or purr of a kitten (I did!), but there is always a financial reality to pet ownership that needs to be considered before bringing an animal home. Companionship is so important in having a happy life, and my world is immeasurably richer because he’s part of it. He brings me joy, helps stabilize my mental health, and gives me something to look forward to every day — I can’t put a price on that. Still, I’d urge anybody considering bringing home an animal to do their homework first: research what you can expect that pet to cost, and do your best to anticipate future expenses. They deserve it!

Jay is a storyteller, psychology major, and wrangler of filing systems. She can be found @freudiancascade both on Twitter (where she yells about writing and feminism) and Instagram (where she posts plenty of cat pics).

Images via Jay S.

  • laura

    OH MY GOD SO CUTE (is this the type of ‘swept up’ we’re supposed to be avoiding? lol oops)

  • Love this! My “free” cat was already an adult when we got him, but there were still plenty of expenses that came up. Also: OMG he’s adorable!!!!

  • Andi Shifley

    Your kitty is absolutely gorgeous and I’m so glad he has a loving home with you, but in my humble opinion, you’ve gone very much overboard on the expenses. For 30+ years I’ve been rescuing “free” cats and kittens and I NEVER paid $300 for a spay/neuter treatment (where do you live, Beverly Hills?). But things like $25 stuffed animals, $40 toys(!!what!! for one cat?!!), extra beds, extra window perches, gift cards and milk frothers are *choices*, not pet expenses. Lol- Nearly every cat I’ve ever had always preferred a plastic straw, balled up tin foil, and a coffee cup lid plug from Panera to any pricey commercial toys. There are ways to be more frugal with pet stewardship and keep everyone happy and healthy, but there is no free anything if it has a mouth and a butt! 😁

    • Brian Mckinney

      Cats, kttens love any open or sealed box. Just cut a whole in it. Put in some crumpled up paper. They love it. Stuffed toys..old socks stuffed and tied up and tie 2 together. Toys the crinkled aluminum balls and 6 ping pong balls about $2.

    • Jay0623

      Haha, I live in Canada! So, unfortunately, I did my research searching for cheaper but those vet bills are par for the course in my area. And I’ll fully admit that not everything I spent was necessary, but if it was money paid on behalf of the kitten that I wouldn’t have otherwise spent, I counted it for the article. As for the toys, I guess I feel bad about leaving him while I’m at work, so I was willing to pony up for a rotation of safe and interesting toys to keep him occupied while I’m gone!

      Thanks for reading!

  • Jenny

    So glad this guy has a great home! Thanks for providing a good breakdown of the possible costs with adopting a cat.

    • Dan Rowley

      Read what Andi, 1st reply, stated. Also, ea. state, license (?) is different. Think this gals physiology background has brought out her OCD! You want a cat….shelters, humane society are your best bet. She’s being ripped off on the expenses of shots. If you are strict on them being indoors, the chip is a waste of money. Unless you want to find them in the house. Shake the treat box….. they’ll run you over getting to you to get to them. That’s how I get the youngest to come out from under the bed. Even if you are thin enough to crawl underneath, they will watch you make an idiot of yourself as they crawl out from the other side, or end of bed. Oh, & if they have claws, you grab them, you might as well be thrown to the lions (Daniel)! New kittens claws are like razor blades. And if they climb up your legs sans you wearing long pants, hope you enjoy scars on your legs. Mine? I could care less about. Badge of honor! 👍👍👍

      • Jay0623

        I agree that I hope the chip will never be necessary for my indoor cat! However, the one thing I know about animals is that they never behave according to plan, so if he ever does get out I want to give him the best possible chance of getting safely home again!

        • Dan Rowley

          I agree. And Houdini thought he was a magician! Ha!

  • Chrissy Hadlock

    Thank you for sharing your purrbabys story. Where I live they have low cost vaccine clinics, to get them fixed runs 60 to 90 dollars. We have five right now, all fixed and has their shots. They are our babies and spoiled rotten!

  • Darlene nichols

    …….the thing is, where you live has a significant effect on the price you pay for services and toys, food etc. You’re a good person for rescuing and adopting him but you paid way more than any of those things cost me for my rescues. I suggest you check out mail order places for all but the vet bills

  • Dawn

    What worries me the most with free kittens being posted online is the risk of them becoming snake food or dog fighting bait. My sister had a stray cat come into her garage and have a litter. We thankfully found them all good homes. My cats will never play with the more expensive toys, so I stopped buying them. They go crazy over balled up paper and glue stick lids lol

  • Bluegirl285

    Where in the name of God are you shopping at that you are spending $100 for toys, $30 for a litter box and litter, $110 for cat perches, all for one kitten, who’s not even a full grown cat. I rescued my cat at three weeks old, and I didn’t even spend an amount like that for her during the first year of her life. Of course the most expensive thing would be the vet bills, as for the rest of the stuff she’s fine with a dollar store laser pointer, food, water, a $5 litter box, and that’s it.

  • Jeanette

    The same scenario happened with my son back in March.I must say our whole family just loves our new kitten.There are expenses but well worth it.He even looks like this cute little kitten.He is mixed Main coon and just beautifil with a full fluffy tail and friendly.

  • you are not supposed to feed them milk – it’s a misconception. cats can be heavily lactose intolerant.

    • Jay0623

      That’s a great point, and something I should have been clearer about! The milk I used to wean him is treated to remove lactose and provide nutrients, as a substitute for a mother’s milk. And the vet said, because he likes it, it won’t hurt to provide it as a treat!

  • Aida Rosalia

    I saw some people getting upset that you bought toys, but I think it’s true to the financial reality – there are some people who are going to look at a new kitten and immediately buy toys. Could you be more spartan about it? Yes absolutely! My husband and I have. But the fact is some people are just going to do it because they’re excited about a new cat, they want it to be happy, they want to get it toys, etc. Plus the article puts heavy emphasis on how the VET bills will most likely be the long term costs and how this is extremely important and that the cats deserve it. I think that’s the best part – they’re not burdens for this, they’re just sweet creatures who need care! And yes to the things kitty will break. My cats have broken so many things over the years.

  • Wolf

    My cat was found in a similar situation, got bottle-fed back to health, and lived a happy 18 years.

  • Congratulations on the new kitty! I love seeing these breakdown posts for those pesky expenses we never think about. I will say, I’ve had my cat for 5 years now, and most of her expenses have been minimal (with one health-related exception). I’m estimating here, but:

    I order her food and litter in bulk every other month or so, which comes to $25/order.
    I got her cute little cat bowls at the local Mitsuwa (Japanese market) for $6 and $8, a splurge but they’re darn cute.
    I’ve gone through 2 types of litter boxes in an attempt to make cleanup easier, but nothing beats the basic pan with a lid: $30 each.
    She’s gotten toy gifts from friends from Daiso (dollar store) but usually is more excited by free stuff around the house — empty paper towel rolls, fidget spinners that someone left at my place, linen cord…
    I bought a nail clipper and brush for her off of Amazon for less than $10 each, and they’ve both lasted years so far…
    I’ve bought her two scratching posts off Amazon, each for roughly $20. They were the same exact product, but they’re meant to be destroyed. Luckily, I have a trick: every time I buy the same scratching post, I keep the parts that survived, and build the new post up. This way I can keep reusing components that would have otherwise gone to waste.
    She’s gotten fixed and all her major shots ($75), and once had a scare with a parasite ($75), as well as a serious health issue where she lost half her weight over the course of a week… not a good time, financially or emotionally (or physically, for her): ($500) But spread over 5 years, it’s been manageable.

    I’m always tempted to buy a timed feeder but I never pull the trigger on it… maybe one day. Still, having my cat hasn’t been as detrimental to my budget as I’d originally thought!

    • Jay0623

      This is excellent, thank you for reading and sharing your own experiences! The idea about the scratching posts is an excellent one; I’m also saving corrugated cardboard to make him new scratchers when he wears through the old. I’m especially glad your kitty pulled through her health scare — it’s always terrifying when they’re ill!

      I had no choice but to get the timed feeder, because I had to go to work but my kitten didn’t know how to ration his own food — he’d panic-eat absolutely everything in front of him, I think as a side-effect of not having access to food for however long he was on his own, and give himself stomachaches. Now that he’s calmed down and feeling secure enough to free feed/graze, I don’t use it as often, but it’ll be good to have around when he’s older. Mine was annoying to program, but for the period of time I used it, it was a lifesaver — I’d recommend it if you can find one on sale!

  • Beck

    Holy hell people, author is just talking about their expenses, not how to have a free kitten frugally. If you want to share where you got your supplies for cheap, go for it! But keep the judgement out of it, we each prioritize and spend money differently. This is one just one way of spending money and you know for damn sure there are tons of people who would spend the exact same way this author did, so this could be a really helpful resource for them.

  • Courtney Hoffman

    I would recommend doubling what you expect to spend on your new furry friend, just in case you wind up with a pet like my dog. I was prepared for “standard” new pet expenses like yours but a month after I got her she blew out her CCL (doggie ACL, basically) and needed surgery to repair that and a torn meniscus. While she was healing from surgery, she developed such severe separation anxiety that she gave herself colitis, came down with kennel cough even though she had been vaccinated for it, and then went into liver failure. Thankfully she’s happy & healthy now and as a result, my expenses have stabilized. While her medical bills were a bit extreme, I do wish I had saved a little more so that I wouldn’t have had to rely so heavily on credit cards! I wasn’t expecting it because the shelter told me she was healthy and a free vet check up local vet offered for people who adopt from the shelter confirmed that. Turns out she was super sneaky about her partially torn CCL and didn’t let on that she was in pain in any way until it completely snapped. She’s worth every penny and I would do it again in a heartbeat!